Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
If you think the economy is suffering from deregulation, consider the biosphere. We’ve been overextending Mother Nature for centuries, with only minimal regulation. The equation is simple: Dow up, Earth down.
In lieu of moral and ethical responsibilities to the natural world, consider an economic one. Biologist E.O. Wilson estimates that the biosphere ” the living earth and its ecosystems ” underwrites global economic development at about $33 trillion per year.
Our planet’s “ecosystem services,” says Wilson, include regulation of the atmosphere and climate; purification and retention of fresh water; formation and enrichment of soil; nutrient cycling; detoxification and recirculation of waste; pollination of crops; production of lumber, fodder and biomass fuel.
Our eco-debt is replete with species extinctions, habitat destruction and climate change. That debt doesn’t show up in corporate ledgers or in government accounting. There is no bailout or rescue plan for biosphere collapse. The Fed, the Treasury and all the banks in the world have no financial sway over ecosystems.
The eco-debt we accrue today is exacerbated by yet another debt ” population. As the human species swarms ant-like across the planet, demands on the biosphere are unprecedented. This debt isn’t just about money; our very life support hangs in the balance.
Some argue that man is above nature, that the biblical concept of dominion and the achievements of science grant us control. We’re learning the hard way that ecosystems are highly complex, having evolved over millions of years in a delicate balance that far exceeds our understanding, let alone our command.
“The constraints of the biosphere are fixed,” warns Wilson in his book “The Future of Life.” “It should be obvious to anyone not in a euphoric delirium that whatever humanity does or does not do, Earth’s capacity to support our species is approaching the limit.”
Wilson advocates investing $30 billion to save vital parts of the biosphere before it’s too late. Most important, he says, are the biodiversity “hot spots” ” lush tropical rain forests and jungles ” where the majority of species live. “For global conservation,” wrote Wilson in 2002, “only one-thousandth of the current annual world domestic product would accomplish most of this task. One key element ” the protection and management of the world’s existing natural reserves ” could be financed by a one-cent-per-cup tax on coffee.”
Given the trillions of dollars being pumped into the black hole of today’s financial sewer, a measly $30 billion for biodiversity is the best investment around. Still, there is no pressing sense of urgency to protect the biosphere as a life link. Instead, we see nature as a mere backdrop to human enterprise.
In public schools, rare is the teacher who gives credence to the biosphere. Rather than teaching our children to respect the natural systems that give us life, our society cripples them with financial debt and soul-killing materialism.
Our religious institutions are equally at fault. Rather than humbling ourselves before Creation in its broadest definitions by recognizing the inherent value of the living Earth and the rights of nature, we worship God-Man images and project ourselves as deities.
Our political systems are corrupted by those who seek power and influence, failing to lead us to the realization that we are members, not masters, of the biosphere. Our most powerful institutions ignore the soul connection to the greater pulse of life that nurtured our species in the first place.
We struggle to prop up an economy that’s based on the impossibility of perpetual growth, ignoring the very real limits of the natural world. It’s time we think differently about ourselves and the deregulated biosphere before those limits become painfully apparent.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.